The market for the “Core-Four” Kansas City Royals free agents has been unexpectedly slow this off-season. Perhaps the most intriguing player, albeit surprisingly, is Lorenzo Cain. Once an afterthought, could Cain remain in Royal Blue?
Thank You, Lorenzo Cain
Lorenzo Cain has meant a lot to the Kansas City Royals over the years. He came to Kansas City via Milwaukee as part of the Zack Greinke trade. Royals fans yearned to see what the highly touted prospect was made of. He quickly drew comparisons to franchise great Willie Wilson due to his blistering speed and impressive defensive prowess. Throughout the two playoff runs, he made countless highlight-reel catches while often being clutch offensively.
Cain was an integral part of the club. Who could forget his brother-like relationship with Salvador Perez or his loyalty to his teammates throughout adversity? Or his infectious smile he would flash after making amazing catches?
Although his talent was always obvious, the usual caveat for critics was his inability to stay healthy. There is merit to this claim. He has only played at least 140 games in one year twice in his career. However, despite being on the wrong side of 30 (turning 32 in April), Cain appeared in a career-best 155 games this past season. He also set career highs in at-bats, hits, walks, and on-base percentage. Overall, he turned in what would prove to be his best single season outside of 2015. That year he won a World Series, started in the All-Star Game, was named ALCS MVP, and finished third in the American League MVP race cannot be forgotten.
After the ceremonial end to the 2017 season that can certainly be described as a tear-jerker, Royals fans were uncertain about what would happen to Cain, as well as many of his teammates. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Jason Vargas were free agents that would also likely depart.
The Royals expressed a desire to cut payroll after the season ended. This, combined with what was expected to be large markets for the services of Hosmer and Moustakas, made the return of any of the championship core guys seem unlikely. Even further, qualifying offers were justifiably rejected by Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain himself.
Still, there was a sentiment that remained around Royals fans. They hoped that the team may pony up top dollar to retain either Hosmer or Moustakas. The logic here was that even if the club is sub-par for a few seasons, Hosmer and Moustakas would still be in their primes when the team is ready to win again. With Cain potential of being an expensive, aging outfielder who relied heavily on his legs he does not fit with the team anymore. Even the fans and experts who expected the Royals to splurge and retain one of their free agents expected it to be someone other than Cain.
Cain seemingly would fit in perfectly on a team that is close to contention. Clubs like the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants have been in on Cain.
Free Agency has played out historically slow this time around. However, there are plenty of possible factors as to why this is the case. The most popular theory is that next year’s class of free agents could be the best of all time. Teams that are either traditionally big spenders or close to winning want to get well below the luxury tax threshold. This will allow them to in order to give offers at big named stars such as Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Andrew Miller, Craig Kimbrel, and many more.
It is easy to see why many predict next fall will be one for the ages in terms of free agency. It could possibly change the landscape of the sport. This has really begun to hurt the Royals free agents. Teams who want to go for it all in 2018 have either been signing cheaper options in order to fill gaps or using prospects to acquire talent via trade as opposed to spending big.
The Giants acquired Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen by way of trade. The Cardinals swooped in to grab All-Star Marcell Ozuna. The Yankees, of course, made the move of the off-season via trade, nabbing slugger Giancarlo Stanton. On the pitching front, the Houston Astros made a massive trade by getting Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates. All while the free agent market continues to drag along.
Despite the dragging market, a center fielder that averages nearly 30 stolen bases per 162 games played, carries a career fielding percentage near .990 and posted an OPS+ of 112 in 2017 will certainly field a job offer before spring training, if not a few. Which teams could still possibly be interested in Lorenzo’s services?
Let’s start with the Texas Rangers. I continue to maintain that Texas is the most logical fit for Cain’s services. When healthy, this current collection of players has the ability to make a playoff run. Despite being more focused on adding pitching depth, they are in need of a stable veteran outfielder. I still believe they sign one of the remaining names, such as Cain, Carlos Gonzalez, or Jon Jay. I cannot foresee a scenario in which the Rangers compete in 2018 without adding a veteran to the outfield, regardless of what holes they patch in the pitching staff.
Next, a return to the Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee has expressed interest in reuniting with Cain. This came as a surprise to many experts due to their seemingly full outfield. While Ryan Braun will probably not go anywhere, this could signal their willingness to trade one of their other staples, such as Keon Broxton or Domingo Santana. If they end up trading someone, Cain would be the perfect fit. Milwaukee has remained in talks with the top free agent starting pitchers and believes that last year was no fluke. They are ready to win. Who knows? Perhaps they sign Cain only to turn around and include Broxton or Santana in a deal for Whit Merrifield, who many believe would help to complete that lineup. Alright, I am done getting ahead of myself – for now.
A Return to Kansas City
Once a pipe dream, a situation in which Cain remains in Kansas City is growing increasingly possible. At the start of free agency, Cain was expected by many to receive a three or four-year deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $16-$18 million. As time goes on, his expected AAV almost certainly declines. If Cain becomes willing to sign a two or three-year deal at a more reasonable AAV, do not be surprised to see the Royals rumors start to fly. These will pick up quickly when the biggest domino finally falls and Hosmer goes elsewhere. If nothing, Cain would help to mentor a new wave of prospects, continue to be a fan favorite, and further cement himself as an all-time great Royal.
There are, of course, other teams that have been rumored to be interested in acquiring outfield depth through free agency, such as the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins, and others. This will definitely provide for an interesting few weeks leading up to Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report for the Kansas City Royals on February 13th.
What say you, Royals fans? Where do you think Lorenzo Cain is most likely to land? Is there a chance he remains here in Kansas City? Let us know!